What should we do with Bougainville?
B'ville’s independence mission one year on

PNG players make it big in Aussie footy

Hewago (Ace) Paul Oea (left) in action for the Gold Coast Suns
Hewago 'Ace' Paul Oea (left) in action for the Gold Coast Suns

| Wantok Almanac | Edited extracts

Link here to read the full article. Wantok Almanac is a collaboration between Wantok Musik’s David Bridie and The Footy Almanac’s Jarrod Landells. Both share an affinity with our Pacific neighbourhood and its stories

MELBOURNE - On the streets of Port Moresby, there is a fervour and life for rugby league that mimics any passion worldwide.

Think Rio Janeiro’s favelas bristling with Ronaldinho acolytes, or Delhi devotees playing cricket every day to become the new Sehwag in the hearts of a billion people.

On the streets of Moresby, the kids dream of being the next Marcus Bai, Adrian Lam or, most likely these days, Justin Olam.

Justin casts a huge shadow over PNG’s sporting landscape; a shadow acknowledged by another AFL footballer hailing from Papua New Guinea, Hewago Paul ‘Ace’ Oea of the Gold Coast Suns.

Ace is arguably the most talented Australian Rules footy player to have learned the game outside Australia.

At age 16 and living in Port Moresby he played school, club, state, regional and national footy.

Now Ace looks set to play senior footy for the Suns after a couple of NEAFL/VFL seasons playing in the reserves.

“My dream is to work hard on my training and off field to play my first senior game,” he said.

“It doesn’t come easy, I know it’ll be hard to get a game in the ones, but I’m positive about the future.”

And positive he has had to be in trying circumstances for any young footballer living away from home and family and dealing with a pandemic while becoming a professional athlete.

All this burdened with people’s expectations of doing what nobody who learned the game in PNG has done before: play in the Australian Football League, the AFL.

Ace and Jarrod (Jarrod Landells)
Ace and Jarrod (Jarrod Landells)

“When I first rocked up at the Suns, Jarrod Harbrow, an Indigenous boy and a good fella started helping me a lot with training and socialising with the other boys.

“It was a bit different when I moved here [to the Gold Coast], I was happy to experience a different culture.”

Despite his upbringing in Port Moresby, home to around 400,000 people (slightly smaller than the Gold Coast), Ace has cultural and family links to other provinces of PNG: his mother’s side is from Gulf Province and his dad’s from Central.

“I grew up with my family in Moresby, hanging out with my friends and family. I loved going to my dad’s village, going fishing and it was good to visit my grandparents.

“I was two or three when I lived at my dad’s village…after that I grew up and spent time in the city. I’m a city boy.”

It was in the city that Ace got the chance to pick up a footy for the first time.

“When I was little, about 10, I started playing touch footy and rugby league for my school and with my friends.

“To be honest, rugby league is so big back home. Everyone supports the Kumuls, it’s the number one sport.

“My older brother started playing Aussie Rules while I was playing touch. I thought ‘Maybe I’ll give it a try for school footy’. He told me to make sure I gave it a go.”

Following in the footsteps of an older sibling is a tried and true path for many a footballer and Ace made all the right steps as he entered his teen years in a dizzying fashion:

“I started in Under-12s, then got picked in the PNG Under-14 team. Next I got picked in the South Pacific team against the Australian state sides and was selected for the Queensland Under-16 team.

“I’ve also been lucky to represent my country for the Mosquitoes [PNG’s senior men’s team]; it’s very special to me.

“I flew down by myself, went into the Queensland camp and stayed with the team for a weekend.

“My visa was upgraded for three months and that was the lead up to being picked up by the Suns Academy.

“I played in the local league down here, for the Broadbeach Cats. Then I started playing NEAFL with the Suns in 2018.”

At this level just below the big time, Ace impressed with his ability to get the ball, his athleticism and his clean disposal. But when he was knocking on the door of a top level debut, the pandemic hit.

“When Covid kicked in everything went crazy, so I’m not sure about the boys back home.”

The ‘boys back home’ are former AFL hopefuls and international scholarship holders Gideon Simon and Brendan Beno – both of whom played in Cairns after stints on the extended lists at Richmond (Simon) and Brisbane (Beno).

They are key points of contact for Ace as he tries to go one better.

“They’re back in Queensland now, still playing footy in local leagues and working as well."

Zimmie kicks away against Gold Coast (David Layden Photography)
Zimmie kicks away against Gold Coast (David Layden Photography)

You don’t see too many AFL Women (AFLW) players with Melanesian heritage, but Zimmorlei ‘Zimmie’ Farquharson’s mother hails from Masingara Village near Daru in PNG’s Western Province.

The family now lives in Dalby, north Queensland, and Zimmie’s dual Australian and Papua New Guinean heritage wasn’t always clear to her.

“When I was little I didn’t know much about my family from PNG – mum never talked about it, dad never talked about it.

“Some people have asked me about my culture and it’s been kind of a shock, because no-one’s ever asked us before.”

Zimmie’s rise in 2022 in AFLW has been swift. In a trademark long-sleeve jumper, she made her debut in Brisbane Lion’s Round 3 win over Carlton and since then has been out of the side only once.

The highly skilled forward from Dalby, who looks set to be a key player in this year’s Lions’ premiership bid, did not come into the world of footy through rusted-on allegiances or generational passion for the game.

“My family’s not really sporty, they’re not sporting people,” Zimmie said.

“I was actually doing other sports - tennis and soccer and I was also a sprinter.

“When I was six, AusKick was going on at our school and my brother took it up.

“I love my brother and have followed in his footsteps, I did my first AusKick with him, then our parents decided to put us into the Dalby Swans.

“It was hard because athletics had the chance to take me so far, but there was no possibility with the AFLW. I didn’t know there was an AFLW.”

“[My PNG heritage] is definitely a big thing for me. It wasn’t really a cultural thing but in 2020 mum decided to take me and my brother to meet the other side of my family, which was really good.

“It made me happy – made me feel like I got a piece of something that was missing when I was younger.

Watching the big game in the village (David Bridie)
Watching the big game in the village (David Bridie)

On the field, Zimmie is exciting to watch, drawing superlatives from commentators, coaches and fellow players.

Despite being a groundbreaker in many ways, she remains a reluctant figurehead.

“I haven’t really thought of myself as being a role model – I don’t want to put that expectation upon myself .... perceive myself as this ‘great footballer who is multicultural’.

“But I would like to show those who have similar backgrounds that it is possible to make it in professional sport.

If I can be that kind of role model for girls who haven’t had that person who was like them, then definitely.”

“Dad was thinking if I ever finish with football [here] to go back and try and do something with football in PNG.

“My family knows how deeply I want to get into my PNG culture because I didn’t get it when I was younger.

“I want to learn more, I want those experiences; like mum went through when she was a kid. I’d like to be there, live there, for a year or two. Know what happens, about the environment, the culture. Really embrace it.”

In the 1960s and 1970s when Australian football in PNG was on the up and up, several players were invited to train with the then Victorian Football League.

They included the late Herea Amini of the Koboni Demons who ran around with its namesake, the powerhouse Melbourne Demons side of 1964.

But, after many years of growth, support for footy in PNG tanked in the late 1970s and early 1980s because of substantial management, funding and structural problems.

It wasn’t until PNG started to find success on field in the mid-1990s, and local heroes like Koboni’s Vili Maha got the local competitions back on track, footy reclaimed some of its former glory.

Footy in Queen’s Park  Rabaul  1972 (David Bridie)
Footy in Queen’s Park Rabaul,  1972 (David Bridie)

More recently this resurgence has led to an International Cup win in 2017 and a stand-out performance by the men’s team at the last Asian Games.

The challenges today are different, but PNG is not fighting them alone this time.

The pandemic has forced the International Cup to be delayed by an entire cycle and many players have been left high and dry – either by being excluded from Australia or Covid restrictions making competitions unviable.

Link here to read the full story of Papua New Guineans in Australian footy



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)